Tag Archives: attitudes

Our own little world

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Are you, like me, sometimes in your own little world?

Do you sometimes get so absorbed in your own experience of something, or your own thoughts, that you forget that, all around you, others are experiencing the world in their own, unique way – a way which could be completely different to yours?

A couple of days ago, I was waiting to collect my son from the train.  It was a beautiful sunny afternoon, and, as I was waiting, I was people-watching.  You know, just watching the world go by.  Just noticing people. All, no doubt, in their own little worlds. And then, I saw a lady walking her dog.  The dog was trotting along, a jaunty little thing, running on its little legs to keep up with its owner’s walking pace.  It stopped to sniff a couple of times, but each time the lead grew a little tighter, just trotted along again to catch up, in such a way that it seemed barely perceptible  to the owner that her dog was exploring the world of the pavements and the hedges with such attention.  She, meanwhile, was focused ahead, looking at the blue sky, the view in front of her, raising her face to the autumn warmth.

And it was so apparent that, although they were on the same walk, their experiences were totally different.  Maybe not so surprising, given that they were different species, and given the difference in their height.  It may look a little strange if we walked along and bent down to sniff the pavement!

But I’m sure that this same sort of thing happens all the time, with our children, our partners, our friends.  We think we have experienced something together, and we have – and yet, we will have perceived it in very different ways.  Our reality is filtered – by our expectations, our memories, our mood, our likes and dislikes, or raga and dwesha to use the yogic terms. A very young child will approach a walk in a very different way to an older child, or an adult.  They are more open to the moment, to the present moment in which they find themselves.  They are not constrained by the weight of their former experiences, they are not motivated by time, so they are able to be in the moment, and take as long as they want.  Every leaf, every stick – as every parent knows! – can be worth seeking out, and spending time with, no matter what the destination is, no matter the purpose of the walk. Each and every moment is valued equally.

As adults, we can try to enter into that world through the practice of mindfulness. We can learn a lot from watching a small child (or even a jaunty little dog!). Whilst not every 5 minute walk can take an hour – try explaining you’re late to work because you were collecting perfectly formed pine cones or stones! – we can still really see, feel, and hear our surroundings.  We can register the feel of our steps on the pavement, the sound of the birds in the sky, the sensation of sun – or rain! – on our skin. We can usually spare a second of our time to notice the smells around us, maybe we pass a rose bush or a jasmine, or some freshly mown grass (one of the best smells in the world, surely!)

And sometimes we could go for a walk, just for the sake of it, just for the experience.  By the sea, in the woods, in a park – it doesn’t matter. Just walking mindfully, fully experiencing all there is to experience, as freshly and directly as possible.  A walk like this can shift our mood, shake us out of our preconceptions, and remind us that we are more than we think we are.  Instead of letting all our opinions, our expectations, our habits and preferences enclose us, we can expand and grow when we look at the world in a new way.

And I think our homes, our workplaces – ok, the whole world! – would be better places if we stopped to remember just how much we colour our experiences through the lens of our perception.  If we stopped to remember that someone else’s perception is just as valid as our own.  If we stopped believing that our way is the right way or the only way.  If we valued feelings and values as much as ‘facts‘. If we started accepting others, no matter what.

And starting in a small way, in our homes, we can truly change the world, as well as our own little world.

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Trying too hard

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elm-leaf-231857_1280We live in an age when continual work and huge amounts of effort are held in high regard. Many employees are expected to work above and beyond their contracted hours,  sometimes for no extra pay.  And people almost seem to compete as to who can work the hardest, or the longest hours.

And yet,  when we really look into this culture of competitiveness,  of excessive drive and ambition,  we can perhaps recognise that this constant effort,  the drive and ambition that characterise so many of us in our working lives,  can be counterproductive in terms of our quality of life. The sense of balance between work and rest, between giving and receiving, is so easily lost in this way.  And sometimes we put ourselves under the sort of pressure which actually makes us less, rather than more, productive.

In yoga philosophy, we now see a domination of the dynamic solar energy, the energy of the pingala nadi, affecting the majority of us.  When this dominance is allowed to continue, the sympathetic nervous system is stimulated which induces stress, and may result in any of the stress-related illnesses.  Yoga practices which quiet this system, such as asana, meditation, pranayama (breathing practices) and yoga nidra (deep relaxation), help to recreate balance by fostering the qualities of ida nadi, the parasympathetic nervous system, and the serene and peaceful energy of the moon.

In Jin Shin Jyutsu, we learn to perceive the attitudes which underlie our way of being.  These attitudes are largely recognisable emotions; worry, fear, sadness or anger, for example.  Emotions which, when they become dominant, affect our whole perception of, and reactions to, the circumstances of our lives. Another attitude which affects many of us is that of ‘trying too hard’ – where everything is an effort, and life is not allowed to flow more naturally.  The quality of our ‘being’ is often overlooked, crowded out by the effort of  ‘doing‘. We can then fail to notice the way we are affected by the things we do, both on an emotional and a physical level.

So if you frequently feel exhausted by the daily effort you put in to your life, it might be time  to look afresh at the way you do things.  Is the amount of  effort you put in to a task disproportionate to the effort that is actually needed to accomplish it?  An Alexander Technique teacher once told me to  notice the physical effort I used during the simple  task of turning on a tap.  Sure enough,  when I thought about it,  I was using way more effort than needed, and way more than I had ever noticed until my attention was drawn to it. And of course, the same could probably be said of  many other simple  daily tasks.  The  key is to start to observe, to be more mindful of our actions and the way we live our lives.

And then there’s the huge amount of energy we can put into resistance.  ‘Trying to’ hold on to things the way they are, to maintain our sense of familiarity and safety with what we know.  And herein lies the attitude of fear, the attitude which is said to be at the root of all others.  If things change, we are scared that change will be for the worse.  But then we are stopping the natural flow of our lives, which just might get better if we can learn to  relax  all that effort and let go.

The following quote comes from The Tibetan Book Of Living And Dying
by Sogyal Rinpoche.  If effort and resistance to change is an issue for you, the exercise might be worth a try:

“Let’s try an experiment.  Pick up a coin.  Imagine that it represents the object at which you are grasping. Hold it tightly clutched in your fist and extend your arm, with the palm of your hand facing the ground. Now if you let go or relax your grip, you will lose what you are clinging on to. That’s why you hold on.

But there’s another possibility. You can let go and yet keep hold of it.  With your arm still outstretched, turn your hand over so that it faces the sky. Release your hand and the coin still rests on your open palm.  You let go. And the coin is still yours, even with all this space around it. 

So there is a way in which we can accept impermanence and still relish life, at one and the same time,  without grasping. “

I love this exercise.  Through our yoga practise, we learn to identify the areas in which we are grasping, striving, and holding on.  In asana, in pranayama, in meditation, we identify our blocks, and then we let go of the effort of holding on to them. We learn to flow with our lives, to use only the effort needed, and rebalance our bodies and our minds.  We gain a wonderful sense of space around us.

It doesn’t have to be difficult!

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Sometimes we set such high standards for ourselves.  We want to be the best, to achieve great things, in an impossibly short space of time.  Whilst it can be good to aim high, we need to practice patience and acceptance of where we are now.

So if we start something new, let’s try not to think we can perfect it straight away.  If we take up a new activity – a sport, say – we will usually improve slowly, remembering that we are meant to be enjoying the process, not just the end result.  If we have never run before, we won’t be running marathons in the first few weeks or months, and some of us never will. If we take up tennis, we hopefully will have a lot of fun, but most of us won’t end up as world-class athletes.

The same thing applies when you start yoga.  Sometimes people have said to me that they would not be able to ‘do’ yoga, as they are inflexible, or they can’t relax.  They feel that if they can’t yet relax or touch the floor, then there is no point  in attending a class.  Of course, yoga is partly about flexibility and relaxation, but these are not requirements for starting a class. They are more something to work towards, while we notice the small improvements and are kind to ourselves as we slowly move towards the things that seem out of reach.  What is more important than where we start is our enthusiasm and our desire to learn.  If we put off starting yoga until we are more flexible, or until we are more relaxed, we  may never start.

Nobody would suggest that you could not attend university if you did not already have a degree, or that you could not write a book unless you already had a book deal.  Once you have those things, you have proof that you can study or write  a book, but if you waited for that proof, you would never start.  So sometimes we just have to act on our own desire to change, our own belief that we can achieve our dreams.  Patanjali uses the word samvega, meaning the urge, the desire to achieve enlightenment, and suggests that it is this, rather than the difficulty of the practice we assume to get there, which is the most important determinant of success (Pada 1, Sutra 21 -22; Saraswati’s ‘Four Chapters on Freedom’).  So we needn’t wait until we can achieve a complicated asana or meditation.  We can start with something easy and comfortable, and the end result will be the same if we truly apply ourselves.  In Jin Shin Jyutsu, one of the attitudes is that of ‘trying too hard’, when everything seems too much of an effort.  We all have those times in life, where we need to  learn to slow down, take it easy and let go with our breath.  Yoga and meditation is the means by which we learn to accept where we are right now.  It should not be another source of stress, another area of our lives in which we push ourselves to achieve too quickly.  We relax and enjoy the process – each sequence, each asana, each breath.

Being in the flow

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In my last post, I wrote about the importance of being able to stay with our uncomfortable feelings, and to let them pass. In my yoga teaching and therapy practice, as well as in my own personal life, it is evident that we really struggle with our emotions, and may hold on to perceived hurts for long after the event which caused them.  We may feed our sadness or our anger, dwelling on the events or circumstances of our lives to which we attribute the emotion, going over and over it in our minds.  We can have a relatively small encounter which upsets us, and by repeatedly bringing it to mind, we can blow it out of all proportion;  when it’s a more significant event, we can hold on to the associated feelings for years.  Once we dwell on and feed an emotion, it can become a part of us.  It is no longer just an energy flowing uncomfortably – but ultimately harmlessly – through us.  Instead, it crystallizes and becomes an attitude.

We all have these attitudes or outlooks, which can affect our whole lives and the way in which others perceive us.  We all know people who we would describe as angry, sad, fearful or anxious – as well as those we would think of as basically happy, giving and forgiving types.  We also flit in and out of these modes of being throughout our own lives.  So what started as a brief, passing sensation can last much longer and colour our whole life.

But just because the attitude has begun to dominate our general mood, doesn’t mean it has to be that way forever.  The emotion may seem to have solidified, even to have become immovable, and yet it can still melt away once we become aware of it and begin to work with it.  Even if anger has become such a basic part of our nature that we react irritably to minor events and explode when faced with bigger challenges; even if we are so fearful that we feel we cannot move forward in our lives.  Things which seem permanent can change and dissipate over time.

Firstly, we need awareness.  We must not close our eyes to the way we are.  We must see the difference between the way we would like to be, and the way we truly are.  Not judging, but seeing kindly, with compassion for the difficult parts of ourselves.

Secondly, we need to desire change, and to create the space to change.  One way we create this space is through the breath; through meditation.  Just sitting quietly – watching the breath, stilling the mind.  Noticing the space between the inbreath and the outbreath.  Calming the mind so that the endless chatter starts to ease away.  An analogy often used is that of  the sky – letting our thoughts be like clouds, just floating through our minds without holding on to them or spinning off in all directions.  In this way, we slowly learn to  stop fanning the flames of our emotions, and to be less reactive in our wider lives.  Whilst we are learning – and this may be for the rest of our lives! – we must continue to be kindly observant of ourselves, to reflect on our progress and not only our inevitable failings.  And whilst we are developing this kindness for ourselves, and learning not to identify with our difficult feelings – acknowledging, for example, that anger is a passing energy rather than turning ourselves into ‘an angry person’ – we could also think more kindly of the difficult people in our lives, allowing that they too can be other than the way we perceive them.